The Tamil Nadu government on Sunday announced extension of the ongoing lockdown till June 30, albeit with more relaxations that included partial opening up of public transport and allowing more employees at workplaces.
Chief Minister K Palaniswami said the curbs on places of worship, all kinds of religious gatherings, inter-state bus transport and Metro and suburban train services will continue.
Tourists entry will remain banned into the hilly Nilgiris district and Kodaikanal and Yercaud towns, while hotels and resorts, except for accommodating health and police personnel and government staff for quarantine purpose, will be closed.
Public transport will resume with reduced buses from June 1 barring in Chennai and adjoining Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpet districts having the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Private stage carriers will be allowed to operate in authorised routes, Palaniswami said.
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The government allowed more employees to join work in software firms and private companies, but kept the containment zones out of the purview of any relaxation.
"To prevent the spread of coronavirus, the curfew is being extended till June 30 under the State Disaster Management Act and as per the Union Home Ministry's notification," Palaniswami said in a statement. Tamil Nadu is among the states worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic and stood second behind Maharashtra in terms of total cases with 21,184 as of Saturday.
The state government's announcement came a day after the Centre unveiled "Unlock 1", a graded exit plan from the lockdown that allowed, among others, reopening places of religious worship and restaurants.
The state government also announced a number of other relaxations, barring containment zones, and these include allowing more employees at the workplaces and permitting showrooms and jewellery shops to re-open.
The major relaxation, resumption of public transport, will be implemented from Monday onwards in six of the eight zones, formed by combining nearby districts, with a slew of guidelines in place. For example, Zone I will have Coimbatore and its nearby districts of Tirupur, Nilgiris, Erode, Karur, Salem and Namakkal in western Tamil Nadu.
As per the guidelines, only 50 per cent of the fleets of buses will be operated that too with a passenger cap of 60 per cent of the seated capacity.
There would be no need for people to apply for e-pass to travel within the zones, the chief minister said, adding, all kinds of vehicles can ply in these select routes.
E-pass will be compulsory for inter-zone and inter-state travel, Palaniswami said.
Schools, colleges and research institutions will remain shut but online classes would be allowed, he said. The cap of 50 people in weddings and 20 in funerals and bar on opening of malls will also continue. Curbs on cinema theatres, gyms, swimming pools, bars, large community halls, tourist centres, zoological parks and museums shall remain in force as it existed so far.
Allowing more relaxations in the areas under the jurisdiction of Greater Chennai Police, the government said IT and IT Services firms can employ upto 20 per cent staff while the cap for private companies was 50 per cent. Transport should be arranged by them.
Showrooms and jewellery outlets, barring malls, can operate with 50 per cent staff while not more than five clients can be allowed at any point of time, he said adding air conditioners cannot run while social distancing is a must. Hotels and restaurants can start dine-in services from June 8 in line with the Centre's guidelines, as against takeaways so far, but only 50 per cent of the seats should be occupied.
So would be the case with tea shops. Grocery and vegetable shops can function from 6 am to 8 pm. Hire taxies can ply in the transport zones with three passengers and the number of passengers in autorickshaws was limited to two.
The government was more liberal in areas beyond the Greater Chennai Police limits, allowing, among others, 100 per cent staff strength in companies and software firms, although it adviced 20 per cent of IT employees can be encouraged to work from home.
Eateries, shops selling groceries and vegetables can function from 6 am to 8 pm while liquor outlets operated by the state-run TASMAC will remain open from 10 am to 8 pm. E-commerce firms can supply non-essential commodities, he said.
As part of expediting its containment activities in the worst affected Chennai corporation limits, the government will provide a relief of Rs 1,000 to those isolated from densely populated areas inhabited by poorer sections upon their return from quarantine centres.
Sanitary workers in the city corporation limits will be paid a honorarium of Rs 2,500 each, Palaniswami added.
Despite all such curbs, people's cooperation was imperative to stem the spread of the virus and wearing of masks has been made mandatory and people should comply, besides following hand hygiene, he said.Earlier, on Saturday, an expert medical panel constituted by the state government to advice it on COVID-19, favoured continuation of lockdown in Chennai, Kancheepuram, Chengalpet and Tiruvallur, considering the rapid spike in cases.